NOTE: Our internet connection is too slow to upload pictures at the moment. We’ll catch up soon.
Greetings from a giant boat on the Yangtze River! We are currently aboard the “President Prime,” the newest and fanciest cruise ship on the river (it started business in April of this year). This is probably the most luxurious vacationy-type thing we have ever done (and will ever do?), made more luxury by virtue of our somewhat impulsive decision to upgrade our room to a really swanky suite, complete with separate living room and a full size bath and separate shower in the ensuite bathroom. (I’m not sure if we got ripped off, but so far it’s been worth it. It’s incredibly nice.)
After our Thanksgiving dinner in Shanghai (which featured something called “Midwest Gravy” – it tasted pretty much like regular gravy), we took a walk back to our hostel, which was on a quiet little lane flanked by giant hotels. It was a great location – less than a three minute walk to the restaurant (K5, or Kathleen’s) on the edge of People’s Park, smack dab in the middle of the city. Kathleen’s is a great place for “plein air” dining, as it’s situated on the rooftop of the Shanghai Art Museum, its walls and ceiling all made of glass for a panoramic view of the city.
In the morning, we packed up and took the subway directly to our terminal at the Hongqiao airport, a brand new airport and fairly quiet compared to the bustle of the more central, older airports like Pudong and Beijing. We took a two-hour flight to Yichang, in Hubei Province – the first place we’ve been to on this trip that is brand new to us. We only spent a few hours there, though, really. We were picked up at the airport by a ‘transfer service’ which Sarah’s Dad booked for us (very glad he did, too- thanks!), which was basically a minivan ride from the airport to the cruise port complete with an English-speaking guide, who told us some things about Yichang and the Three Gorges.
We arrived at the port around 4 pm and checked in, then poked around the area to try to find some snacks and dinner, since they’re scandalously overpriced onboard. We wandered to a convenience store and stocked up on sunflower seeds, dried fruit, and a local snack made from sweet potato flakes that are pressed together into something like a Rice Krispies square (I haven’t tried it yet but Sarah says it’s good).
Since this is the low season for tourism, there wasn’t an easy way to tell which resturaunts were good, since they were all empty, but we eventually settled on one called River View, which turned out to be a good choice if only for the eponymous view, which was really gorgeous (pun intended?). Hopefully a picture will be attached. After talking to the waitress for a while and not really understanding what our options were, we ended up looking over at the table next to us and asking things like “what kind of cucumbers are they having?” Then the waitress would explain, and we’d nod knowingly, pretending that sounded good to us although we had no idea what was going on. This method yielded a tasty dish of cucumbers cooked with garlic and red peppers, and a really nice dish that was mostly mushrooms with a liberal addition of bacony pork. Yum. I also had a bottle of what I think is called “8 degree” Tsingtao beer; this is not as good as regular Tsingtao. I deem the 8 to refer to the beer being 8% skunk juice. (I don’t mean to be down on Chinese beer; I usually like it, and actually this wasn’t that bad.) We had a lovely and leisurely dinner on the balcony overlooking the river and the arresting landscape of the gorge.
Last night we watched the documentary “Up the Yangtze,” which follows the stories of a couple of young people working on cruise ships like this one and explores the impact of the Three Gorges Dam on the local residents – as the river level has risen, many people – mostly poor farmers – have been relocated. Seeing the life of the high-school aged girl working on the ship and the hardships her family had to endure was pretty sobering.
This morning, we awoke to the official wake-up music at 6:30 am (muzak of the 60’s and 70’s, mostly) and the announcement that breakfast would be starting at 7 am. We happened to be seated at a table with another couple from Vancouver (small world!) and his parents who live in Foshan in Guangdong province. We decided to forgo the optional tour this morning, which had something to do with the cultural heritage of this area (not that we weren’t interested, just felt like taking it easy), and are now relaxing on the 6th floor of the ship where Sarah is doing some embroidery of a rabbit riding a chicken, while I’m writing this.
(PS: If I’m able to post this after writing it, which I hope to, please note that we probably won’t be on the internet at all until we get to Chongqing on Tuesday. We’ll have to catch up on the last few days then!)